Social Science blog

29 posts categorized "Research methods"

17 May 2013

Picturing Propaganda

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Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the recently launched Propaganda exhibition writes about an upcoming study day that will examine the power of visual materials. Ian also provides answers to last Friday's quiz.

After nearly two years of planning, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion has opened today. Last night’s launch was great fun, with David Welch and Armando Ianucci speaking, followed by our very own leaflet drop. Over the past couple of days, I’ve very much enjoyed showing people around and talking about the exhibition.

It’s fantastic to finally see everything in place. There’s a huge difference between seeing the exhibits in small groups, as we were doing during planning, and seeing everything displayed together. In the gallery, the emotional power of the more-visual elements is astounding.

We’re going to be examining the power of visual materials in a study day on Saturday 1 June. We’ll be looking at both printed materials, such as posters, and moving images. The programme for the day reflects the themes in our exhibition, covering nation-building, health campaigns, and propaganda in war time. We’re working with the British Film Institute to look at research covering film and other visual materials, and how these kinds of resources can be studied in combination.


Above: Policemen look out of the eyes of the Statue of Liberty, with a policeman's baton forming a tear shape. The image is from a Russian poster, originally titled ‘Freedom American-Style’ by B Prorokov, as featured in the British Library exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.

Scott Anthony and Linda Kaye will talk about public relations in Britain and the use of film to reinforce images of Britain. Bryony Dixon will talk about public health in early silent film, and Sarah Graham, who features in our exhibition, will compare methods in visual communication in AIDS awareness campaigns. Luke McKernan will talk about newsreels in World War One, and Peter Johnston will discuss government-media relations during the Falklands War. The day starts with David Welch, talking about the use of visual materials in creating a sense of the enemy, and Sue Woods, providing an introductory guide to government film-making.

The day will be a great chance to find out more about current research and resources using these powerful and striking materials. You can find out details and book tickets on our web page.

Last week, I posted three national anthems questions. Here are the answers:

1. South Africa uses five languages in it’s national anthem: isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English.

2. The national anthem of Poland has the chorus: ‘March, march, Dąbrowski, March from Italy to Poland, Under your command, We shall reach our land’.

3. The European Union uses music from Beethoven’s ninth symphony, the setting of Friedrich von Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’, as both its anthem and to symbolise Europe in a wider sense. 

30 April 2013

Researching the exhibition

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Dr Peter Johnston is a freelance researcher, copywriter and editor, who recently worked on researching and writing labels and other text to accompany our Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteAJohnston. Here, Peter describes his experience, and explains the background to one of our exhibits.

When I began conducting research on the British Library’s forthcoming exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, I was a little daunted by the task. I’m no stranger to research, far from it - but here was a massive project, more than 200 objects that needed to be researched and explored in quite a short space of time, with the results written up and presented to an audience that will number in the tens of thousands.

The obvious question was where to start? Propaganda is not a new concept, and if you visit the exhibition you’ll see that, while it has not always been known by that name, propaganda stretches back as far as Ancient Greece and Rome – and probably further. So in order to tackle this massive project I started in the most logical place: the beginning.

Using Explore, the British Library’s catalogue, meant that I had access to thousands of books and articles on the subjectfrom which to extract knowledge. The ability to handle original documents and study the original productions was truly remarkable. The problem of where to start soon became one of how I could possibly fit in all of the fantastic information. Apart from the fascinating objects displayed in the exhibition, I was able to find out about aspects of propaganda that I never knew existed and some of the stories that surrounded them.

One of the most striking examples of this was the propaganda employed by the American colonists in the War of Independence. The colonists who wished for revolution were very conscious of the importance of public opinion and propaganda in promoting and attracting popular support for their cause. Boston was the Revolution’s propaganda nerve centre, the hub from which the majority of propaganda emanated.

Initially, propaganda was orchestrated by figures such as Samuel Adams through the Boston Gazette, and his depiction of the Boston Tea Party was a propagandist triumph. Adams later headed the Boston-based Committee of Correspondence, which became the chief agent of persuasion and propaganda used by American politicians seeking initially to further the cause of ‘no taxation without representation’, and targeted both British and Canadian public opinion. In time, the propaganda came to foster calls for independence.

American revolutionary propaganda was diverse, incorporating words and images. Entertainment was politicised to further the cause and Liberty Songs and plays depicting recent events were common. Other propaganda included poems, paintings, and printed caricatures. Pamphlets by authors such as Richard Price and Thomas Paine (copies of which are in the British Library) sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and General George Washington had Paine’s writings read to his troops to motivate them and raise morale before the successful Battle of Trenton, at a time when morale amongst the Continental Army was perilously low. When reading them now you can see why, as they include quotes such as this:

‘These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country... Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.’

(Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776)

The British counter-attacked on the propaganda front with their own pamphlets and leaflets, but the Americans certainly won the propaganda war. They even went international, and Benjamin Franklin was despatched as an Ambassador to France in order to enlist French support and worked closely with French publishers so as to gain support amongst the wider populace. This work resulted in direct French military involvement later in the war. Similarly, John Adams also went to Amsterdam to continue and support the work Franklin was doing in Paris.

SMALL Massachusetts Calendar 1772 p p 2517 n (3)

Public Domain Mark  The Massachusetts Calendar, 1772

This is one aspect of a diverse and detailed history behind just one exhibit that features in the exhibition, a Paul Revere engraving of the events in Boston of 5 March, 1770.

What was truly amazing is that, despite the evolution of propaganda mediums with the growth of mass media, the central methodologies and motivations remain the same. Propaganda remains a tool for spreading messages and influencing opinion, a vital exercise in the spreading and consolidation of power that was recognised by Alexander the Great as much as it is in the 21st century.

Useful information

'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' launches on 17 May 2013. For more information see the 'What's On' pages. To join in the converstation on Twitter use #BLPropaganda

19 April 2013

The 1980s Archived

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In this post Sarah Evans outlines materials and resources available at the British Library that can be used to research social, political and cultural aspects of Britain in the 1980s

The events of the last two weeks have fuelled discussion about British society, politics and culture during the 1980s. Serendipitously, I was today browsing through the British Library Sounds website and came across this new oral history collection entitled ‘Observing the 1980s’  which features interviews with those involved in key events such as the Falklands War, the uprisings in Brixton and the Miners’ Strike, as well as on social issues such as unemployment and HIV. It brings together different voices from those who lived through the 1980s and is part of a project led by the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the British Library and the Mass Observation Archive.

As well as this collection, there are many others which offer insight into politics and life during the 1980s. Indeed, the recently launched website ‘Sisterhood and After’ includes extracts with women who were involved in the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. For example, the below extract from Rebecca Johnson about the idea of ‘Embrace the Base’:

‘I don’t know who came up with the idea to call Embrace the Base but what came out of that idea of the action was, we were going to bring women to Greenham in their thousands.  We were going to do it on the anniversary of the NATO decision to put Cruise and Pershing into Europe and that was December 12th 1979, so we were going to do this on December 12th 1982 and that was a Sunday.  And having got loads of women to come to the camp we were going to invite as many as possible to stay and help us close the base so it was Embrace the Base on Sunday, Close the Base on Monday.  And this action began to kind of form in our minds as a way to bring women to see what’s going on, to see the sheer immensity of this nuclear base expansion ‘cos it had been a nuclear base for quite a while.’

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Embracing the base, Greenham Common December 1982, near to Greenham, West Berkshire, Great Britain. At noon on December 12th 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6 mile perimeter fence of the former USAF base, in protest against the UK government's decision to site American cruise missiles here. The installation went ahead but so did the protest - for 19 years women maintained their presence at the Greenham Common peace camp. This image was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph's page on the Geograph website for the photographer's contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by ceridwen and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.  6a00d8341c464853ef017ee9c1502c970d-800wi

Alongside the oral history collections which document personal experience, the British Library sound collections include other kinds of recordings which will no doubt be of value to researchers in many different disciplines. For instance, the collections include recordings of speeches of the major political parties during the 1980s. Indeed, I have just found Margaret Thatcher’s speeches at the 1984 Conservative Party Conference in Brighton and the 1989 Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool.

Researchers of pop culture during the 1980s will be interested in the music recordings and pop videos which are held at the British Library. From The Specials singing Ghost Town to Kylie Minogue talking the audience through her favourite songs on BBC Radio One, the sound collections offer the opportunity to remember the events which fuelled musical responses or to be catapulted back to one’s younger self (I also just found ‘Smash Hits’ magazine in the main catalogue!).

Nearly three years ago my colleague Dr. Phil Hatfield and I organised, with a number of external partners, an event which brought together witnesses from the uprisings (sometimes called ‘riots’) of the early 1980s, alongside those who have subsequently undertaken research on what happened. The chair was Professor Gail Lewis and the speakers were Linda Bellos OBE, Wally Brown CBE, Kunle Olulode, Prof. Louis Kushnick OBE, Dr Anandi Ramamurthy and Sean Creighton. The podcast for this event is available on the British Library Website.

The recent political, cultural and public discussion about the impact and legacy of social change during the 1980s has certainly shown the need for researchers to be able to access a variety of materials relating to recent history. For those who remember the 1980s and for those who want to find out more, the British Library’s diverse collections are a good place to start.

17 April 2013

Legal Biography: A national socio-legal training day - 15th May 2013

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In this post Jon Sims, Curator for Law and Socio-Legal Studies, explains Legal Biographies and outlines a forthcoming event: Legal Biography: a national socio-legal training day on 15th May 2013. This is the second national socio-legal training day to be organised jointly by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, the British Library and the Socio-Legal Studies Association.

As varied cultural currents narrate the 1970s and 1980s through the political life of Baroness Thatcher (called to the Bar, Lincoln’s Inn, in 1954), it occurs to me that a recorded interview with Baron Joffe (called to the South African Bar in 1962, just one year before the Rivonia Trial) is among the British Library’s oral history collections (law and the legal system).  

Legal Biographies “are a rich and important source of information about the legal system, the evolution of case law and statute and legal cultures more generally”. “Yet … they have been much neglected in the study of law” states the website of the London School of Economics Legal Biography Project

Further steps to remedy this neglect will be made next month, on the 15th May 2013, at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The “Legal Biography: a national socio-legal training day”, organised jointly by the Institute, the Socio-Legal Studies Association, and the British Library, will focus on methodological considerations and problems involved in doing archival research for legal biographies. The day aims to draw attention to archives that newcomers to the field may not be aware of and to consider the practical problems involved in analysing sources.


Sorabji, Cornelia, bachelor of civil law in 1892, called to the bar 1923, diaries covering 1919 – 23  are held at The British Library e.g. File reference: Mss Eur F165/81. Photograph of Bust at Lincolns in by James Frankling CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons  6a00d8341c464853ef017ee9c1502c970d-800wi

Given recent initiatives in research methods training and the roles of social-sciences and history in the evolution of disciplinary paradigms in academic legal research, growing interest in legal biography is perhaps unsurprising. Interest in biography and life course research is clearly evident from the British Sociological Association’s conference programmes and Auto/Biography Study Group for example. 

Names such as Maine, Maitland, Milsom and Holdsworth are prominent in the story of history’s role in British legal scholarship. However the work of Hurst and Horrowitz (what is it about Ms and Hs!) demonstrate, as Ibbetson points out on page 875 of The Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies (OUP 2003), a shift in US legal history which, at least superficially, suggests the utility of biographical methods. This was the shift of focus away from legal doctrine and towards “institutional frameworks”, “legal practitioners and administrators”.  Biography has also recently been described as the “new history” of the moment. 

Examples of North American academic interest in legal biography can be seen for example through the Women’s Legal History – biography project at Stanford, the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History - Oral History Programme.

UK socio-legal enquiry has embraced investigation of the professions and institutions of law, looks beyond the roles of legal elites to administrators (court clerks, street level enforcers, and bureaucratic decision makers), and also searches beyond the monologue of the appeal judgments for the lives of the litigants. The litigants story has also emerged, for example through critical evaluation of the narrative of standard institutional histories, asking for example, what happened to the eponymous Miss Bebb of the landmark case, [1914] 1 Ch 286, concerning the opening of the legal profession to women.

However, while legal studies embraces, at times, the need to look beyond legal rules and doctrines, legal biography, as this LSE Project reminds us, also aids our understanding of the “evolution of case law and statute”.

The Legal Biographies training day on the 15th May is the second national socio-legal training day to be organised jointly by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), the British Library and the Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA).  If you are interested to find out more about methods and resources in legal biography then why not register and come along to IALS (Russell Square, London) to learn from the experiences of legal academics, archivists and librarian’s working in the field. 

Confirmed speakers include: Rosemary Auchmuty, (Reading University) talking about researching the life stories behind Bebb v The Law Society - a case concerning women’s admission to the legal profession, Lesley Dingle (Squire Law Library ) talking about the Eminent Scholars Archive, Guy Holborn (Librarian at Lincoln’s Inn, adviser to the LSE Legal Biographies Project and author of Sources of biographical information on past lawyers) on biographical method and the Inns of Court, Les Moran (Birkbeck) and Linda Mulcahy (LSE Legal Biographies Project) on using image in legal biography, Giles Mandelbrote (Lambeth Palace Librarian and Archivist) on Ecclesiastical court records at Lambeth Palace Library,  Jon Sims (British Library) on exploiting the library’s collections for legal biography, Mara Malagodi (LSE) on archival investigations and researching the neglected constitutional legacy of Sir Ivor Jennings in Asia,  Susannah Rayner (SOAS) and Antonia Moon (British Library) on archival resources at the School of Oriental and African History and India Office Archives, , Elizabeth Dawson (IALS Archivist) on using archival resources at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

Online Registration and Further Details: for further details and online registration for Legal Biography: A national socio-legal training day (15 May 2013, 10:00 - 17:00) please see the Events Calendar on the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies website. The cost for the day’s event, including lunch and refreshments is £30 (Student rate), £60 (SLSA members), and £70 (full price). 


Our 'help for researchers' pages contain more information about The British Library's Socio-Legal Studies Collections

Jon Sims, Curator for Law and Socio-Legal Studies, can be followed on twitter @SSCRLaw


08 April 2013

'…the irreducible things that happened': sociology in the archives

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Sarah Evans recounts an especially absorbing session at the British Sociological Association's annual conference which examined archival research in sociological inquiry.

Last week I managed to spend some time at the annual conference of the British Sociological Association. There was one session in particular that inspired me in relation to my work at the British Library. A session on 'Archival Research in Sociological Inquires and Beyond' brought together four academics who have undertaken feminist, archival research in different ways: Liz Stanley, Maria Tamboukou, Andrea Salter and Niamh Moore.

Liz Stanley has written about archival research in the social sciences as an emerging field, and as someone who works with social science researchers in the archive, I'm aware that there are still relatively few sociologists who work closely with archival materials. It was great to hear the issues given voice and discussed by real advocates of archival research.

One member of the audience asked a question about how the sociologist in the archive is different to a historian; must the starting point be a different one? How does the methodology differ? What are the different epistemologies and practices that take place within the different disciplines, and how do these come into being through engagement with the archive and the resulting interpretations? I began to wonder whether the pressures and limitations of the REF exercise might go someway to explain the relative dearth of sociologists within the archive - could there be concern about mis/recognition in relation to 'units of assessment'? Or are the main issues in training and awareness?

Liz Stanley and Andrea Salter gave presentations on the different methodological and theoretical issues which arose during the process of undertaking archival research, specifically in relation to their research on Olive Schreiner's letters which has produced the Olive Schreiner Letters Online. Andrea Salter spoke about how the production of a digital 'archive of an archive' requires the practice of a particular kind of sensitivity which draws repeated connections between past and present. Their work made me think about the relationship between the researchers who use Olive Schreiner Letters Online and the researchers (including Liz and Andrea) who have used the original letters in the archive. If I had thought of it at the time I would have asked about the conversations which have taken place between these different users; no doubt these conversations are productive.

I very much enjoyed hearing about Feminist Webs, a participatory feminist project which has created an archive and produced an online resource for those involved in youth and community work with young women. Niamh Moore described the process of creating and building the archive and the process of change which occurs in the imagination when one works in the archive. Some of what she and the other speakers said connected to my own experience of using archival material in which reality can be suspended at certain moments (with the deep imaginative absorption one might experience in reading a great novel), whilst at other moments the social world is enhanced through occasions of real clarity. These very different kinds of thought seem to fuel one another. Maria Tamboukou's paper spoke beautifully about these moments and of how working in the archive generates particular imaginative connections through time and space in her paper on 'archival rhythms'.

What struck me across all of the presentations was the way in which archival research requires a sensitivity to multiple audiences and stakeholders (dead or alive) - from the people who produced the material, to those whose lives have been documented and represented, to the future researchers who may use the 'archive of an archive' which is necessarily produced as we sort and organise archival materials in the process of our research. This session really inspired me to seek out more ways to work closely with sociologists in the archive.


25 April 2013: I received a lovely email from Liz Stanley following this post which alerted me to an article which she, Andrea Salter and Helen Dampier have published in Cultural Sociology and which examines and answers many of the questions raised here. The link to the online copy is here and the print version will be out in early summer.

19 February 2013

Moving Image and Broadcast News

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Last week I attended a couple of the curator sessions which formed part of our social science doctoral training day. One of the sessions was by Dr Luke McKernan, our Moving Image Curator. The collections he looks after, and services he has developed, offer incredible potential to researchers across the social sciences and I wanted to briefly highlight some of them here.

Many people may not realise that the British Library holds moving image material, but in fact there are over 55,000 items in our collections, including ethnographic videos, documentaries and 14,000 music videos. These resources are available to access via our listening and viewing service and can be found through our main catalogue.


Dr Luke McKernan speaks about the new Broadcast News service

There is a new service which could add significant value to social science research, particularly that which undertakes discourse analysis on news sources as part of its methodology. The British Library Broadcast News service provides access to television and radio news programmes from seventeen channels which have been broadcast in the UK since May 2010. Forty-six hours are recorded per day and they are almost immediately available to watch in our reading rooms. Many of the programmes recorded come with subtitles, which we have been able to use to provide a word-search function. This will allow you to find news programmes relevant to your research as well as particular moments within those programmes which will be of interest to you.

The channels we record include: BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, Al-Jazeera English, NHK World, CNN, France 24, Bloomberg, Russia Today and China's CCTV News.

Luke McKernan has more relevant information about this service, and other moving image services on his blog. He is currently investigating speech-to-text technology and how this will enable us to make even more moving image and sound collection fully searchable. You can read more about this process here.

Other resources

Tom Hulme, our ESRC intern, has written a case study about using Broadcast News at the British Library. Read it here.

14 February 2013

Being a collaborative doctoral student at the British Library

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Eleanor Bird, one of the British Library's collaborative doctoral students, describes her experience of meeting other BL PhD students and writes of the different ways they make use of BL collections in their research.

On Thursday 10th January the British Library (BL) hosted a day for its collaborative doctoral (CD) students and BL staff working across different areas. This was held in the conference centre and was organised by Liz Lewis (Engagement Manager for Arts and Humanities at the BL).

Having just started my PhD in Narratives of Slavery in Canada at the University of Sheffield (supervised at the British Library by Dr Philip Hatfield), I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to meet up with fellow BL CD students - past and present - to hear more about the projects they have been involved in, and about how they have used the BL collections in their work.

A particular highlight for me was the student presentation session in which we each gave a short three-minute talk introducing our work. It was really interesting to see how the students are working with collections in diverse ways. For example, Ami Pass (University of Lincoln) is utilising her strong background in science to evaluate techniques for preserving BL material. Meanwhile, Lauren Blake (University of Sheffield) is conducting oral history interviews on food activism and William Frost (University of Sheffield) is investigating English-speaking tourists’ experience in Norway, drawing from the Library's rich travel narrative collection.

It was an exciting and vibrant atmosphere which generated some very good feedback from staff and students alike. This was the first time we had met as a group and we hope this will be the first of many more.

Useful links

Find out more about our Americas collections here.

Read Phil Hatfield's personal blog here.

Find out more about how we work with Higher Education here.


30 January 2013

Census Statistics and Resources

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Today sees the Office for National Statistics (ONS) release key statistics for lower level geography data from the 2011 Census. In this post John Kaye explores the changing nature of census outputs and resources available to those who want to go back in time and analyse historic population characteristics

The 2011 Census, Key Statistics and Quick Statistics for Wards and Output Areas in England and Wales has been released today with some key findings around language spoken and statistics showing a significant decrease in married households and a small increase in co-habiting households.

Today’s data release is important for geographers and those interested in spatial research as it allows users to map out key characteristics of the UK population at output area: small geographic analysis areas introduced in 2001, with each area having a minimum of 40 resident households and 100 resident people, but the recommended size was rather larger at 125 households. The map below shows 2001 output areas around The British Library at St Pancras in London and the percentage of the local population born outside the UK.


Crown Copyright. Map Created by John Kaye

2001 was the first time that these population based small areas were used; prior to this census the smallest areas were Enumeration Districts, which were determined not by the size of the population, but by the practicalities of collecting the data. The same map around St Pancras for 1971 based on Enumeration Districts shows the changing nature of this geography.


Crown Copyright. Map Created by John Kaye

Geography isn’t the only way that the Census has changed; questions within the census change with the changing population and changing social issues. For example the question around household amenities in the 1950’s and 1960’s is around the presence of a ‘flushing toilet’, in the 1970’s and 1980’s this changed to an ‘inside toilet’ in 1991 and 2001 the focus changed to ‘toilet and/or bath or shower’. The chart below shows the changing questions and the amount of the UK population affected by lack of amenities since 1951.


Crown Copyright.

With rising living standards and increased access to household amenities the question about amenities has been removed from the 2011 census and questions about number of bedrooms per household and the type of central heating have been added.

When exploring the census and population statistics through time the following digital resources are useful:

Currently there is a digital gap around census statistics and reports from The 2nd World War until 1971, which includes the 1951 and 1961 censuses. However reports and statistics from 1921 to 1991 are available to view in hard copy on the open shelves in The British Library Social Science Reading Room, these include national and county aggregate reports and statistics for all census questions.

The Library also holds other census resources such as a number of maps generated with census and population data from the UK and all over the world. An example below is Augustus Peterman’s map of the British Isles based on the 1841 census.  Just like today the 19th century censuses generated vast amounts of geographic data. How to present that data in a way that could be understood was a major challenge, and required innovative methods. This map was produced by the German geographer Augustus Petermann, and featured a number of new techniques. He used shading to show differences in population density, and graduated dots or circles to show relative sizes of towns and cities. Graphs around the edges of the map show population growth over hundreds of years, and the different rates of growth in large cities (click on the map and zoom in to view the detail). This map, while undoubtedly useful for planning on a national scale, also demonstrates a more general fascination with statistics and population.   

   Augustus Petermanns population density map 1841 (credit British Library Board)

 Augustus Petermann, Map of the British Isles, elucidating the distribution of the population based on the 1841 census. London,1861. Scale 1:1,600,000. Click on the map and zoom for more detail.

The library also provides access to other population records such as the electoral registers and commentary and information around historic censuses through resources such as the British Newspaper Archive. There are many resources available and much to discover about the present and past population.


Census output is Crown copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.

With thanks to Ian Cooke, Lead Curator – International and Political Studies.